(21 January 2012 – from Matthew)
My last unread Persephone book – but as we’re now in September, I think I’ve strung them out pretty well! This is the sequel to the marvellous “Miss Buncle’s Book”, and a little longer and slower going, which made it a lovely, wallowy read. Miss Buncle is now Mrs Abbott, house-hunting then settling into small town life, with a crop of rather odd children tumbling around in the garden and various random town ‘characters’. But of COURSE, Miss Buncle isn’t going to write a book about them and risk being hounded out of town …
I love the portrayal of female friendships and the jolly lingo of nephew, Sam, who needs to buckle down. But will he, when the place is populated by suspected ghosts, there’s a Will that the wrong people know about, and poets and artists knocking around who cause one to ponder on the relative nature of good and bad art. And, in the end, will something happen that will mean another bout of upheaval for the Abbotts, surely the most happily married couple in literature?
Thomas Hardy – “The Trumpet-Major”
An excellent read with the rural background, well-drawn female characters and self-sacrificing heroes that we expect and love from Hardy, but a bit lighter, with less tragedy, and an interesting historical (to Hardy as well as to us) setting, which gives him the opportunity to muse on the passing of time. There’s a particularly lovely bit about the weapons kept in the church which gradually move away, come in for other uses, and eventually drop to pieces on various farms. Festus Derriman, one of the inevitable set of suitors, is hilarious in his moodiness and cowardice. John Loveday is the solid hero, a kind of Diggory Venn figure, making things right in the background; his brother, Robert, is more flighty, and there is always the sense that things could go badly wrong. Old Mr Derriman is a figure of fun, but also of pathos, not too broadly drawn for sympathy in the end, with a purity in his relationship with Anne as a surrogate daughter. The historical details are nicely done, with the fashions carefully delineated, Hardy of the Navy (the “Kiss me, Hardy” one, presumably), and encounters with the king. A charming and overall good read. I doubt I would have approached this without Ali’s Hardy Reading Project, and I’m glad I did.
Marie Tieche – “Champagne and Polar Bears”
(21 January 2012 – from Matthew, bought at a book sale in Worcester)
Subtitled “Romance in the Arctic”, the romantic aspect is subtly done and careful. Marie is already living a slightly insecure life in Spitzbergen when she takes up a stranger’s offer of a year in the far North, living with him in a small hut, polar bears and all. As with most books by this publisher (Summerscale), honest and personal, but where the writing quality in the books can be a bit uneven, this one is well-written and lyrical as well as down to earth and satisfying on the details and minutiae of packing for and living in such an extreme situation. While she says that she has trouble talking about her emotions, the author certainly expresses herself well and this is a good read, sad dog bits notwithstanding and in need of some maps and photographs. There is a useful Epilogue that answers some questions, and all in all a good read that gives one a flavour of what it would be like to live in a hut in the land of eternal midnight for half of the year, with one person who you don’t really know. Which is quite a tricky thing to get across!